The Problem with Making a Movie About Vince McMahon

It was recently announced that the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Vincent Kennedy McMahon, could be portrayed by Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper in an upcoming biopic. As a lifelong wrestling fan, I think that Vince’s story is one that is suited to the big screen for obvious reasons. His story is that of the American Dream (and I don’t mean Dusty Rhodes), a working class guy who rose from nothing to create a corporate juggernaut. The man who laid waste to the old territorial system of wrestling promotions and monopolised the art into a billion dollar company that is floated on the New York Stock Exchange. A ruthless, cutthroat businessman who has been at the centre of scandal and controversy since the 1980s. But there is quite a large possibility that this film could be less There Will be Blood and more The Wolf of Wall Street, portraying Vince as a cool dude who just had a pretty wild journey.

The truth is that Vince McMahon has used his insurmountable position in the wrestling industry to fashion himself into a messianic figure. WWE’s propaganda machine will parade him around as a genius and a revolutionary, whilst conveniently glossing over his highly-publicised personal life. This is a man who has had to settle a litany of sexual assault cases out of court, has placed a gagging order on the ex-wife of one of his company’s top talents after she was beaten at the hands of said talent, and whose extramarital affairs are no secret to anyone. Vince is not a saint, he is an aggressive, controlling man with just as many enemies as friends. To provide some insight into the psyche of Vinny Mac, he once pitched a potential storyline to his real-life daughter, Stephanie McMahon (a long-running on-air character in WWE programming, as well as a behind-the-scenes executive), that would see her falling pregnant, with the father being a mystery. The resolution to this mystery? It would be revealed that the father was none other that Mr. McMahon himself. And when Stephanie put a hard veto on the idea, Vince then had the brilliant notion of pitching the father being her brother, Shane, also a WWE character and real-life member of the McMahon clan.

Now, can you really picture a movie being produced about the still-living billionaire delving into his twisted fantasies of incest without being slapped with a court case from WWE’s army of lawyers? Me neither. The WWE’s need to protect Vince so incessantly, despite most of his dirty laundry being out there for all to see, would influence the script of what could be a fascinating examination of someone who’s clearly not all there. All I can expect to see from this movie is a sanitised, WWE-approved romp that presents the Chairman of the Board as the most brilliant person since Jesus (did I mention that Vince and his son once wrestled Shawn Michaels and “God” in a tag team match once and won?). Even the casting tells you what this will be like; Bradley Cooper is a good-looking, talented, charming, and beloved celebrity who is nothing like the man he may be portraying. Vince has referred to himself in the past as a “genetic jackhammer” and clearly fancies himself as a stud. Now, I’m no prize myself, but Vince is flattering himself a lot if he sees a resemblance between himself and Cooper. And I can’t help but feel he’s playing a large part in the casting process.

This is the cynic in me talking, however, and I could possibly be writing off the production too soon. Cooper is only 42 years of age, so the film will likely cover Vince’s childhood through to his acquisition and expansion of his father’s wrestling promotion in his late 30s. Vince was physically abused by his stepfather growing up, living in a trailer park with no money or hope for a better life. That all changed when he met his biological father, Vince McMahon Sr. at 12 years old, and the seeds were planted for Vince to pursue a career as a wrestling promoter. It’s a fairly typical rags to riches Hollywood story, but there is certainly a real element of darkness to it. McMahon was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he worked his fingers to the bone to become a self-made billionaire. These are all details that could form a satisfying narrative, but purely telling the story of the rise and failing to acknowledge the sinister side of Vince is what I fear may happen.

I don’t claim to know Vince, nor do I know for certain what he’s truly like as a person, but the stories that are told about him haven’t come out of nowhere. Be it covering up a murder so one of his top earners could continue to wrestle, or burying rumours of one of his trainers molesting young recruits, it’s a yarn that reads like a Shakespearean tragedy as opposed to a Hollywood fairy tale. Knowing how protective Vince is of his image, the chances of this biopic exploring the horrors of the wrestling world and the part he may or may not have played in such are slim. I wouldn’t expect to see any kind of depiction of steroid-use, forcibly taking the territories of other promoters, or having a boat named “Sexy Bitch” (really) making its way into the final cut. I think what we can expect is a cliff notes version of the actual story, downplaying the negatives and giving us a Vince that is audience-friendly, as the real man is hardly a sympathetic figure.

Professional wrestling is rarely explored in cinema, and was at its best when shown for being the hell that it is in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. I doubt we’ll get anything that even approaches the honesty and candidness of that. This is going to be a case of us getting the movie we want, just not the movie Vince McMahon deserves.

Oh yeah, he’s also best friends with Donald Trump, just saying.

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